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Counting elephants by monitoring sounds

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Biologists and acoustic engineers based at Cornell University will join researchers at two sites in Africa in a new program to monitor the numbers and health of forest elephants by eavesdropping on the sounds they make.

New monitoring procedures will be tested in the Central African Republic, beginning in March 2000, and in Ghana in May 2000 before expanding to other regions of the continent.

"Acoustic monitoring may give us crucial information on the elephants about which we know almost nothing because they live under the cover of forests," explains Katharine B. (Katy) Payne, a research associate in the Bioacoustics Research Program of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

"With the increasing pressure on African elephants from the ivory trade and from illegal poachers, we desperately need to know how many animals are still alive and what they're doing," says Payne, whose discovery of long-distance infrasonic communication among elephants is recounted in her book Silent Thunder (Simon & Schuster, 1998).

Says Christopher W. Clark, Cornell's I.P. Johnson Senior Scientist and director of the Bioacoustics Research Program, "When you're recording animal sounds you're also monitoring their physical environment, and this will provide insights to aspects of the elephants' behavior and ecology that are available in no other way." Clark's first demonstration of the feasibility of acoustic counting focused on whales. His laboratory pioneered the use of acoustic arrays for monitoring animals and developed computer-based tools, such as a program called Canary, for the measurement and analysis of natural sounds.

One unnatural sound that biologists would hate to hear -- and one that could be picked up by microphone arrays -- is the sound of poachers who kill the animals for their valuable ivory tusks, says Steve Gulick, a recording engineer who first captured the calls of forest elephants in Gabo
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Contact: Roger Segelken
hrs2@cornell.edu
607-255-9736
Cornell University News Service
13-Oct-1999


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